How Digital Assistants WorkThe technology taps into the resources of the Internet, and as a generation 2 product makes it easy to order goods, delivered directly to your door, without touching a computer or going to a store. Their operating systems are triggered by a key word like, “Alexa,” “Echo,” or, “Hey, Google.” Once activated, they begin securely processing your voice to deliver services via the cloud resources developed by Amazon (Alexa or Echo), Google (Hey, Google), Apple (Siri) or Microsoft (Cortana).
Security ConcernsWhile the built in microphone technology is always on, it does not process, store or record your voice outside of the activation by the keyword. At least according to what the manufacturers say. This then raises some serious questions and security concerns about the future of this technology. Let’s take for example an Amazon Echo. Commands like:
- “Play classic rock.”
- “What is the weather?”
- “Set an alarm for 6 am.”
- “Order laundry detergent.”
- “What is in my calendar today?”
- Unauthorized Users – Simply put, this is unapproved users activating the system to get information. Since some of the information could be sensitive, like an owner’s calendar, unauthorized users can therefore use a digital assistant to reveal personally identifiable information.
- Third Party Audio Sources – Third party audio sources, like televisions and answering machines, can trip the keyword on a digital assistant. To that end, they could be used maliciously to order merchandise or create unwanted events for the device. For example, consider an answering machine that plays the message out loud while it is being recorded for screening purposes. If an attacker knows the digital assistant is in proximity, simple commands like, “Alexa, set an alarm for 3:30am.” or “Order product X.” can be executed. Also, if a TV show had a line, “Alexa, order product Y”, how many devices would auto execute the purchase? Third party sources do not necessarily need authorization to commit a command and audio commands can be injected by other audio sources within ear shot of the digital assistant.
Morey J. Haber, Chief Technology Officer and Chief Information Security Officer at BeyondTrust
Morey J. Haber is Chief Technology Officer and Chief Information Security Officer at BeyondTrust. He has more than 25 years of IT industry experience and has authored four Apress books: Privileged Attack Vectors (2 Editions), Asset Attack Vectors, and Identity Attack Vectors. In 2018, Bomgar acquired BeyondTrust and retained the BeyondTrust name. He originally joined BeyondTrust in 2012 as a part of the eEye Digital Security acquisition. Morey currently oversees BeyondTrust strategy for privileged access management and remote access solutions. In 2004, he joined eEye as Director of Security Engineering and was responsible for strategic business discussions and vulnerability management architectures in Fortune 500 clients. Prior to eEye, he was Development Manager for Computer Associates, Inc. (CA), responsible for new product beta cycles and named customer accounts. He began his career as Reliability and Maintainability Engineer for a government contractor building flight and training simulators. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.